There’s a new baby in the Chevy family of vehicles, and it goes by the name Cruze. A four door upscale interiored compact sedan, the Cruze exemplifies the concept that frequently great things come in small packages. Or you could think of it, as Honey I Shrunk the Malibu.

Chevy expects the Cruze to be segment leading in the compact class offering hybrid like fuel numbers in a traditional drive train package. Cruze is offered in three different trim levels: Eco (obviously designed to be the most fuel efficient), LT and LTZ. The Chevrolet Cruze is powered by a new generation of highly efficient, small-displacement four-cylinder engines, including the Ecotec 1.4L turbo and the Ecotec 1.8L. The Ecotec 1.4L turbo is standard on Eco, LT and LTZ models and helps the Cruze Eco achieve up to an estimated 40 mpg on the highway (with a standard six-speed manual transmission). The powertrain includes a 5 year/100,000 mile limited warranty.

The goal of the Cruze is to redefine the concept of a compact sedan by bringing mid-sized spaciousness and amenities to the to the compact segment. Our test vehicle was an LTZ edition. Included as standard equipment was the 1.4 L Ecotec turbo mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Cruze LTZ rode on 18-inch wheels and was stopped by four-wheel disc brakes. Standard creature comforts highlighted a six-way power driver’s seat, leather seating surfaces, heated seat and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Included entertainment features were Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port with audio interface, and steering wheel mounted audio controls. Cruise control and remote vehicle start were also part of the package. If you haven’t got the hint that there is a lot of high end equipment in this diminutive baby, perhaps the presence of automatic climate-control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror and ultrasonic rear parking assist will bring the concept home.

If you want more than what the standard trim level includes, an RS package is available on both the LT and LTZ level for $695. The RS package gives you a unique front and rear fascias, rocker moldings, front fog lamps and a rear spoiler. Available options: pause–and-play radio, downloading of audio CDs or transferring MP3 files from a USB memory device: an upgrade Pioneer audio system with nine speakers and a 250-watt amp. XM radio is available.

Safety is also paramount on the Cruze agenda including a host of airbags: driver and front passenger frontal, knee, side impact and head curtain; rear outboard passengers side impact and head curtain. The safety technology lists begins with stability control, 4 wheel ABS brakes and tire pressure monitoring system. Other standard power items included door locks, remote keyless entry, heated-powered adjustable outside mirrors, rear window defogger and variable and intermittent wipers. By now I’m confident you are getting the picture, the Cruze is a small package that has all the bells and whistles that you have come to expect in a more luxury priced vehicle.

We found the Cruze interior’s grained leather, soft-touch components and low-gloss trim panels to exude a quality that is uncommon in the segment. Visually the petite sedan is sporty and striking, while still maintaining a definite visual connection to its corporate siblings the Impala and Malibu.

To us the most important part of any vehicle is the drive. We give the Cruze thumbs up. Because of its dimensions, it is most maneuverable. Because of its engineering, the ride and handling characteristics are what you would expect in a much larger vehicle. On fuel economy, we found in real life mileage we averaged 23 mpg, which was just a touch under the EPA city rating of 24. On an extended Interstate drive from Atlanta to NC, our numbers rang up in the mid 33 mpg, again a tick under the 36-mpg EPA rating,

For many customers: young families, empty nesters or those looking to minimize their lifestyle, the 2011 Chevy Cruze could be the perfect vehicle to cruise into your drive.

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  • Horsepower: 138
  • EPA Mileage; 24 city/36 highway
  • Pricing: Begins at $16,275, as tested $23,565
  • Seating: Five
  • Fuel: Regular grade